March 18, 2005

Study says larger, lighter vehicles are safer

Washington, DC – A new study released by the Aluminum Association Inc. shows injuries in crashes involving SUVs can be reduced by up to 26 per cent by using aluminum or other high-strength, lightweight materials to the vehicle’s design, and adding slightly longer energy-absorbing crush zones.

The study, using computer simulations and conducted by Dynamic Research Inc. (DRI), evaluated how crashworthiness and crash compatibility would be affected if a vehicle’s size was maintained or increased, but its weight was reduced or maintained. DRI studies have been used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in its research.

The aluminum industry commissioned the study in light of potential changes that NHTSA is considering making to the structure of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program.

One aspect of the study reduced the SUV’s weight by 20 per cent, but did not change its size; another extended the same vehicle’s front and rear crash zones by 11.4 cm without changing its weight. Researchers then computer-simulated 500 collisions using NHTSA’s national average for moderately severe collisions, meaning that at least one of the vehicles had to be towed away.

Aluminum is currently the third most-used material in automobiles, after steel and iron. Model year 2002-2003 cars contain an average of 121 kg of aluminum, while light trucks contain 126.5 kg. A general rule is a fuel savings of 6 to 8 per cent for every 10 per cent reduction in the vehicle’s weight. The Aluminum Association also noted that 90 per cent of a vehicle’s aluminum can be recovered and recycled.

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